Even before the movie’s opening shot, a fresh a cappella version of the Universal Studios theme fades in to accompany the spinning globe logo. What a harmonious tip-off for the cheeky mix of comedy and melody promised by “Pitch Perfect 2.”
Sure, this might work even better if the vocals didn’t sound so processed and pitch-corrected. But, hey, realism isn’t the point in this sequel, a bigger and more focused outing than the somewhat overpraised original. The project also marks the poised directing debut of cast member Elizabeth Banks, who underplays the romance, amplifies the absurdism and always keeps the music center stage.
After a wardrobe malfunction involving Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) ruins a concert attended by the first family, the Barden Bellas suffer a ban from their university. No more national a cappella competitions. So resourceful Beca (Anna Kendrick) and her motley gang recognize that their only chance at reinstatement is to win a global contest that no American act has ever conquered.
Already hampered by the graduation of key members, the Bellas recruit a legacy candidate, Emily (Kendrick’s fellow Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld), who brings an originality that the group was lacking. It’s needed when taking on the feared German champions Das Sound Machine, a Teutonic unit decked in black fishnet and leather — picture Kraftwerk meets Right Said Fred meets outdated stereotypes. Can the cutesy Bellas hope to withstand this aural blitzkrieg?
“How good can they be?” Fat Amy counters. “Germany hasn’t produced a good singer since David Hasselhoff.”
This sequel to the 2012 megahit (and mega-selling soundtrack) emerges as less awkward than its predecessor, which struggled to mingle “Glee”-type musicality with Farrelly brothers-style raunchiness. Fortunately, the gross-out moments have been replaced with more actual humor. This is one hilariously quotable movie, from the bizarre non-sequiturs whispered by enigmatic teammate Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) to the insensitive interplay between event announcers John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Banks).
The clueless John says of the performers, “What an inspiration to girls all over the country who are too ugly to be cheerleaders.”
Less effective is Australian comedian Wilson, the true breakout star from the first flick. Her role has been supersized in both screen time and song solos, but it proves an unwelcome fit. The abrasive Wilson works better in small doses and is too wink-wink at the camera to ever feel like a real individual. Her fling with former rival Bumper (Adam DeVine) stalls the story at every juncture.
Thankfully, a couple dozen other characters add their own voices.
The screenplay by returning writer Kay Cannon (ex-wife of KC’s Jason Sudeikis) spreads the comedic wealth. Almost everybody earns a spotlight moment.
The best involves a new character (simply referred to as Beca’s Boss in the credits) played by Keegan-Michael Key of TV’s “Key and Peele.” He’s a hotshot record producer and owner of the studio Residual Heat where Beca has started a lowly internship. In other movies he would be the guy who yells a lot and is always wrong. Here, he still berates his eager-to-please staff with amusing precision (“That’s a really great example of a horrible idea.”), but his advice about the industry remains spot-on.
Explaining to Beca that any kid with a computer can do a mashup of popular songs, he tells her that to get beyond singing competitions a producer must know “who you are as an artist.” That insight proves crucial to the film’s cathartic finale — set in Copenhagen, of course (but filmed in Louisiana) — that can honestly be labeled a showstopper.
For an obligatory sequel, “Pitch Perfect 2” delivers material that’s much more sharp than flat.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
‘PITCH PERFECT 2’
Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:55